When I first started getting into gaming, it was all about RPGs. Board games were either the mass market junk you’d find on the shelves at K-Mart or these arcane collections of hex maps, charts and counters that could monopolize your dining room table for days. The Settlers of Catan came along in 1995 and helped usher in the modern, more elegant age of board gaming, but before that, consult Sub-Table 1.4 of Chart A in the Preliminary Resolution Step sequence of the Introductory Phase. But some of these games have an enduring popularity, partly because of that nostalgic complexity. Games like Advanced Squad Leader and Magic Realm and the game that hit the table last night.
Car Wars — My only previous exposure to this game was a diorama that used to adorn our local game store. It featured an armored 18-wheeler under attack by a fleet of heavily armed cars and motorcycles, and no, it wasn’t a lift from The Road Warrior, even though that film came out the same year Cars Wars did. Not that the game didn’t owe a debt to Mad Max, with a generous dose of Death Race 2000 thrown in for good measure. You could roll across the countryside in a campaign game, or just shoot at and bash each other in gladiatorial-style combat. This was an early release from industry stalwart Steve Jackson Games, long before it seemingly became all Munchkin all the time, and has remained popular enough that a reprint was released last year, one that nicely resisted the urge to slap a fresh coat of paint on the game and looked pretty much like what you would have seen on a game store shelf back in the 1980s.
So seven of us strapped ourselves in to our cardboard counters last night and did battle in the arena. And it was as enjoyably convoluted as I remember games from that era being. We had to set our speeds, which determined when we acted during the five phases of each turn according to a chart we moved little cardboard chits around on. We did maneuvers which reduced our handling rating that cross-referenced our speed on a chart to calculate when we’d have to check to see if we had an accident. I had a head-on collision with someone, and we spent a good ten minutes just figuring out what speeds our respective vehicles were reduced to as a result. After which my car basically exploded and killed me. Which I could have assumed from the fact that I, you know, ran straight into someone at high speed.
Not that it wasn’t fun. And, ironically, incredibly fast-paced; each turn represents a second of real time, and by the fourth turn, three of us were in bad shape, either dead or unconscious and drifting to a stop. And laughing the whole time. It’s organized insanity, over-the-top and ridiculous in all the right ways. Even if I think they’re still at the table consulting a table on how to exit their vehicles.